For example, take the 63rd Academy Awards for 1990. Say what you will, Dances With Wolves was NOT the best picture that year. Was it a bad film? Absolutely not. But the winner that year should have been Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, a cinematic masterpiece that was completely overlooked. Dances was your typical historical epic, and we all know how much Hollywood loves epics. Maybe if Goodfellas was named "Wiseguy" after the book it might have been a better contender, but they chose not to stick with it because of the well known TV show of the same name. It was also Costner’s directorial debut. Hollywood loves stuff like that. Scoresese loses, we all move on.
I thought the same thing at the 67th Academy Awards for 1994, when Forrest Gump won. While the special effects were groundbreaking at the time, they are completely dated today. The special effects are one of the biggest reasons it won. It was innovative, revolutionary and had done something we had never seen before. Unfortunately, it just doesn't hold up today. It does have a solid plot and is a good film, but we all know that Pulp Fiction was the clear cut winner that year. Quentin Tarantino lost to a gimmick, an undeniable fact in hindsight.
In 1997, when the 69th Academy Awards were underway, you could just smell that The English Patient was going to win. It had everything the Academy looks for; it was a period piece, it had top notch actors and amazing set design, and the costumes had the authentic look and feel of the time period. Unfortunately, it was also boring as shit. The film that should have won that year was without a doubt Fargo. It was funny, dramatic, touching and sad. It also had a wood chipper scene that probably cost it the Oscar. Should it have won? Yes. Did it? Of course not.
One of my favorite films is one that got snubbed badly in the 71st Academy Awards for 1998. That film was Saving Private Ryan. The very passable Shakespeare In Love won the Best Picture that year. Ryan had everything a Best Picture should have; plot, acting, drama, and directing (which Spielberg won for). Shakespeare in Love was a period piece, which in itself seems enough to garner a nomination. It also was one of the most average films to be nominated that year. Dame Judy Dench also won for Best Supporting Actress for what I believe was only 7 minutes of screen time. Everyone else nominated that in that category that year had every right to be angry. I know I would have been if I were up for Best Supporting Actress.
The 74th and 75th Academy Awards can almost be forgiven for giving the Best Picture award to A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Chicago (2002). It's a well know fact that the Academy was NOT going to Give the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy a very deserved Best Picture for three straight years. Instead they gave it to the two best runner ups those years and heavily awarded The Return Of The King in 2003. As much as it would have been deserved, Hollywood probably would have been shunned for it. I don't agree, but I understand.
This brings me to this year, and the 82nd Academy Awards for 2009. Never have I seen so many uninspiring movies nominated for best picture by the books. This is not to say that there were not a few surprises in there, namely UP and District 9. But for the most part, it is a very unimpressive year. This brings me back to the Academy rewarding mediocrity, which brings us back to this year’s probable winner, Avatar.
Avatar is not necessarily a bad film, but it sure as hell isn't Best Picture material. Now I won't sit here and tell you you're wrong for loving this film (I have Scott for that). What I will say is that it is an average film at best, with a weak plot that barely supports the hefty runtime and generous serving of 3-D CGI. When it comes time to vote, I really hope that the Academy is smarter than it has been in the past. There are so many better films to consider. Hopefully they don't fall into the hype of how it's the "Most Popular" or made the "Most Money" or "Best 3-D". We're talking about Best Picture here, people! If Avatar is the best we can come up with for Best Picture than we are truly in trouble. Tarantino, whose “ Inglourious Basterds” was a far better film, will be snubbed yet again, and by yet another big-budget film with an expensive and over-produced gimmick.
Here's my prediction, and I REALLY hope I’m wrong. I think the Academy will award Tarantino with Best Director so they can feel justified for giving Avatar Best Picture. This is something that has happened in the past and hopefully will not happen this year. All of the things that Avatar does well are nothing more than what the technical awards should handle. Then again, I think it would be damn funny if District 9 were to win Best Special Effects. It would be nice if innovation and skill won out over mega-budget extravaganzas for a change. I was more impressed with D9's effects than I was at Avatar's overgrown Smurfs, and it only cost $30 million in comparison to Avatar’s bloated $400+ million dollar budget. Also, why is Avatar nominated for Best Cinematography? Where is logic behind that? Were they filming on location in Pandora instead of in front of a green screen? I think not.
Will this years awards be as dried out and lackluster as I’m thinking? We'll find out March 7th, 2010. Let's hope I'm pleasantly surprised.